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"Tattling On 'Tales Of Young Robert'"

by Earl Scialabba
The Rampage, Fresno City College

Monday, October 31, 1988

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Those who believe Fresno is culturally dead have a surprise in store for them. It is the "Tales Of Young Robert." That is a yarn in itself, and the band is what it's all about.
(l-r) Nate Butler, John W. Koontz, Mark Ribera, Darren Embry, Stan Schaffer. Photo by Wayne DeJager, 1989.
The "story" started in the mid-eighties as a trio consisting of [guitarist/songwriter] Nate Butler, [bassist] Darren Embry, and [drummer/songwriter] Stan Schaffer.

The additions of [percussionist/keyboardist] John Koontz and [lead singer/saxman] Mark Ribera brought the idea of the band to fruition, and now "Young Robert" is incredibly developed for a six-month old band.

What is even more impressive is that all the members have full-time activities outside the band.

School and jobs both vie for the band members' attention, so the band is given three nights a week to practice. That's 12 hours a week. That's it. And yet the rapid growth of the band conceals this. It has 30 original songs to its repertoire.

Older songs were mostly conceived by Butler and Schaffer, but now all of the members conribute.

Fate seems to be responsible for bringing together the different musical baclgrounds of the members, such as show-tune, classical, and pop. It's as if it were meant to happen, according to Koontz.

The members' families are very supportive, and go to many of the band's shows. For example, Matt Embry, Darren's brother, ran the lights at the show they did at the "Wild Blue Yonder."

The band itself is a family structure. Respect, as well as passions, run deep among the members. Goals which the band has readily agreed upon are: to present serious matters in a funny way (that is, to relate, not alienate); address issues; and give possible suggestions to help others.

"Collectively," said [singer Mark] Ribera, "the message is 'Do!'"

The band is serious about its messages because not everyone has the opportunity to promote them. They do want to reach more than just those who frequent the "Wild Blue Yonder."

The audience response to the band's gig at the "Wild Blue Yonder" was really positive.

"I admire their non-commerciality and inventive lyrics," said one fan. "They're very special."

[Percussionist John] Koontz summed up what the band gets from this response by saying, "You exchange some sort of energy... It's a natural rush. The more you do, the more you want."

Indeed, the stress is high, but what the band gets from performing is intense.

Acceptance and liking each other is required, and "Tales Of Young Robert" has no shortage of that.

The talents of the band members are widely diverse.

[Bassist Darren] Embry has a background with guitars, keyboards, and bass guitar. Presently doing bass, by choice, he believes that the rhythm section, bass and drums, is the core of the song, as they are played even when other instruments are silent.

[Singer Mark] Ribera has a command not only of song, but of at least four types of woodwinds, keyboard, and guitar.

[Songwriter Nate] Butler, a veteran of bands such as AVATAR, seems to be able to do anything.

They all sing and play more than one instrument. Versatility is one of their main draws; and, they like to see that in others. Bands they admire display that kind of quality.

For now, Fresno is their main base, and will remain so for at least another year.

Their goal is to make a full-length tape and an album. The demo tape is imminent of their own original material.

According to Embry, the band is still searching for innate confidence.

The bands' earlier songs were more introverted, aimed at an audience mostly of fellow musicians. Now they are shifting away from being a band's band, and going for, as they say, "the brass ring."

"We want it to go somewhere," said Ribera.

It does not take someone as individualistic as myself to appreciate the originalitiy of a band like "Tales Of Young Robert." The message is there, and they do respect us for noticing it.

The show Saturday night was incredible. I supppose they impressed the hell out of me. The best part is that they are not diffident or full of themselves. They are open-minded, and yet fear, much like myself, a possible Bush/Quayle administration. They are honest. I like that, and I like them.

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